ILR perspective informing reform in India

The COVID-19 pandemic prevented Dr. Ramaswami “Balu” Balasubramaniam from visiting Ithaca, but not from engaging in his coursework. In addition to his work with the NGO that he founded, the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement, Balu traditionally teaches two ILR courses each fall – one on international development and one on leadership in the context of human resources.

Two of his most recent projects show how important these subjects are in the real world. They include his appointment to the Commission to Reform the Indian Administration, and the creation of the social stock exchange.

The Commission to Reform the Indian Administration is a project created by India Prime Minister Narendra Modi to overhaul the country’s civil service and bureaucracy. According to Balu, the pandemic has shown how important public services are, as the difference between countries with a strong response to the pandemic – such as New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and South Korea – and those such as the United States and India are stark, and the difference is a failure of public services. In a recent interview with ILR, Balu stated that the failures of the public system have forced people to fend for themselves and illuminated areas for growth within the bureaucracy of India.

Balu added that his vision for India’s bureaucracy moves the country away from the legacy of British colonialism; Indian citizens of Britain should be equal partners and participants in the development of India.

With his background in civil society and academia, Balu is bringing his perspective to the commission, where he works alongside representatives from the private and governmental sectors to create a citizen-centric bureaucracy, creating an India with “less government and more governance.” Another of its goals is to create a public service summit that is similar to existing global forums such as the World Economic Forum. Balu said he envisions India as a leader at this forum, demonstrating how important human resources and civil services are.

In this work, Balu said he is utilizing the human resources and public affairs knowledge of the ILR school. The leadership course he teaches each fall is especially critical in this work, as he teaches about leadership for global citizenship and creating social good, empowering both individuals and organizations. “I get to use what I teach at Cornell and that is going to be tried out by millions of people in real life, and then this experience will be going back into my teaching,” Balu said.

The second project which utilizes Balu’s work at ILR is the burgeoning creation of the social stock exchange, on which he created a report. One of the core tenets of Balu’s teaching and work is that the private sector needs to work alongside government and NGOs to create meaningful change. “We have committed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which means by 2030 we have promised to deliver on 17 of those goals,” he said. “That means we need to be spending over a trillion dollars a year. We don’t have that kind of money now, the public sector investments, NGO investments, and investments from international agencies only come to $46 billion, so that leaves $54 billion needed. The only people not participating fully are those in the private sector. And why would the private sector want to participate unless they see some kind of return on their investment?” asked Balu.

“People are ready to participate [in social change efforts]” he said, “but they want to see impacts.”

The social stock exchange, therefore, will operate like a typical stock exchange, except it will enable trust in social enterprise organizations by encouraging investment in them. The social stock exchange “is one way of mobilizing resources for the sector to ensure that we are able to do the social development that we want.”

According to Balu, other countries have created social stock exchanges, but none are functioning in the way he envisions India’s exchange. Balu has spent the past five years researching and drafting a report on social stock exchanges.

“I talked to a lot of people at Cornell for input,” he said, including Professor Rosemary Batt, Associate Professor Marya Besharov and the Buffalo Co-Lab staff that has tremendous experience in stimulating social development with private investments.

Balu hopes to implement his vision in India this summer.

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